What is wrong with my orchid?


I have four orchid plants that sit on my dining room table, and they have light from a north-facing window. All of a sudden the leaves on one orchid has become very limp, and shriveled. It is several years old, and in the same pot that it came in. The other three are doing quite well. The room temperature is moderate, and I give them each two small ice cubes of water a week. Can you please tell me what the problem is?




Dear Caller,

Owing to the plethora of Phalaenopsis in the markets these days, many of us have become proud owners of these very challenging — and often rewarding! —plants to nurture. Often we wish, “Oh, if only my orchid could speak !” Well, in fact your orchid IS speaking, and, as orchids typically do, via the appearance of their leaves.

 Moth Orchids (Phalaenopsis), thrive on diffused light — but plenty of diffused light, if that isn’t a conundrum. Orchids are epiphytes (not parasites) that thrive on the bark surfaces in their natural jungle habitats. In fact, continuous direct sunlight can also cause leaves to become limp. As Ontario’s day light hours are becoming longer, at first blush I thought maybe your orchid has been receiving a bit too much sunlight. But, then, your other orchids are thriving nicely, all in the same locale, so this is likely not the problem.

The next major necessity (or culprit) is water: too much— or too little — water will also cause your orchid’s leaves to droop and shrivel. Your tried-and-true system of watering sounds good. But, the fact that your ailing orchid is in the original plastic pot, and the original planting medium, could be the issue. One popular orchid planting medium, available at nurseries, is composed of chunks of Western Fir bark, charcoal and horticultural perlite. (Photo attached.) These 3 elements make the orchid’s roots feel right at home, preventing both soil compaction and water retention. But the bark portion of orchid mixes tends to, over time, decompose into smaller particles, creating a denser mix which will retain more water. Add to this the natural ongoing attrition of the plant’s roots, which also add to build-up of organic matter around the roots, and you may find that your orchid is suffering from soggy sadness.

As you mentioned when we spoke, you are up for repotting your malingering orchid, and we reviewed the repotting procedure as described in the Toronto Master Gardeners wonderful, in depth, guide that is a must-read for all orchid owners. And there are many other requirements for successful orchid gardening that are addressed herein: https://www.torontomastergardeners.ca/index.php/factsheet/growing-orchids-a-toronto-master-gardeners-guide/

Just so you know you’re not alone in tending to an ailing orchid, TMG has answered numerous queries from orchid gardeners, and below is a sample response given to another gardener, like yourself, who was equally puzzled with changes in her orchid’s leaves. https://www.torontomastergardeners.ca/index.php/askagardener/my-orchid-leaves-are-drooping/

Thank you again for writing, may you have continued success with your orchids, and hopefully many readers, too, will benefit from your experience !

Brown bark, white perlite, black charcoal